Gio Scelzi, Carson Macedo share spotlight at Knoxville Nationals sprint car races

Fresno 16-year-old Gio Scelzi, seen in a victory lane interview last year, is the youngest winner in World of Outlaws history.
Fresno 16-year-old Gio Scelzi, seen in a victory lane interview last year, is the youngest winner in World of Outlaws history.

Gio Scelzi of Fresno and Carson Macedo of Lemoore shared some of the spotlight at the 58th annual Knoxville Nationals, sprint car racing’s Super Bowl.

At 16 years and 8 months, Scelzi became the youngest driver to start the 50-lap main event on Saturday night, eclipsing the mark held by Jeff Gordon, who qualified for the finale in 1989 at age 18.

Scelzi, continuing his summer barnstorm with an Indianapolis-based team, finished 14th to lock up the rookie of the year honors.

Macedo jumped into the Jason Johnson Racing entry for most of the 10-day run in Iowa and finished it off with a sixth-place finish. Earlier in the night, he received a trophy acknowledging his status as the top driver during the run of races including last weekend’s Knoxville 360 Nationals.

It was an emotional run, too: Jason Johnson suffered fatal injuries in a June sprint car crash and his team led by his widow selected Macedo to carry on the team banner in the venue where Johnson scored his most significant victory, winning the 2016 Nationals.

How big are the Knoxville Nationals? The more than 20,000 seats at the half-mile dirt track were filled and NASCAR star Kyle Larson was back for another try at the win, shuttling between Iowa and Michigan for the NASCAR Monster Energy Series race.

Larson led two laps Saturday night but otherwise it was all Brad Sweet of Grass Valley winning his first Knoxville Nationals racing for another NASCAR star, car owner Kasey Kahne. Ten-time Knoxville Nationals winner Donny Schatz was second and Larson third.

Dominic Scelzi, Gio’s older brother, also made his first Knoxville Nationals main event, securing his spot driving his family’s car to victory in the World Speed Sport Challenge on Friday night. Dominic finished 16th Saturday night.

Sixteen spots in the $150,000-to-win ($9,500 to start) A main are set by points earned in preliminary night races, and Macedo earned the eighth starting spot, Gio Scelzi the ninth. Four more drivers joined Dominic Scelzi in advancing from Friday races, and finally, four drivers advanced from Saturday’s. B main. That’s where Cory Eliason of Kingsburg in the Easton-based Roth Motorsports car started. But Eliason, who raced in the A main last year as a rookie, fell back and failed to make it two years in a row.